Everyone knows that the customer is king. But Maik Erkelenz, Director Business Consulting at Crossmedia, knows from many years of experience that companies often face various hurdles when it comes to putting this way of thinking into practice. In the following, he provides a helpful guide for taking the first steps with the guiding principle of customer centricity.
Customer centricity has become as familiar in conversations between entrepreneurs, marketers and consultants as the business classics sales and procuremen”. Consultancies and large corporations are recruiting at breakneck speed and setting up departments dedicated entirely to the customer’s positive brand experience. More and more articles on the topic are appearing in trade media. Everyone knows the buzzword and is working – actually or ostensibly – on building up the corresponding competencies and systems. But what does customer centricity really mean? Understanding the essence of this approach seems to be far less widespread. Yet it is quite simple: “The customer is king”. The customer should have a positive experience at all points of contact with the company. As a result, they should not only be loyal but, in the best case, an enthusiastic brand ambassador. That’s the idea.
Theory vs. practice
The superficial reader might object that I’m puffing up fortune cookie wisdom. “Customer-focused? Aren’t we all!” But as a matter of fact, we are talking about a revolution here. It is the recognition of the fact that the customer alone determines whether a company is successful or not. This in turn means that all departments must continually measure their performance against the most important benchmarks of all: Customer added value and customer satisfaction.
In this respect, reality has been rather lukewarm so far. If we look at the results of such projects or initiatives, we see that the main task of creating added value for the customer and thereby passively increasing sales was usually only marginally implemented. In fact, the focus for many was simply on numbers. Even as a customer, you too rarely get the impression that companies communicated in a particularly consistent, relevant and courteous manner. The truth is: Only a few understand the dimension of the idea of customer centricity.
King of satisfaction
But how do I get closer to achieving these goals? If the customer is king and you want to know what His Serene Highness needs for happiness, then ask! Grab a survey tool from your CRM or from the web and find out what the king wants and why, using a maximum of five questions. You can’t get better clues for setting a strategic and operational course anywhere else. Then take two or three of these customer wishes. Think about how you could fulfill these wishes. What would you have to change in your company? What technologies do you need? Would you need new staff or would you have to train existing personnel? Carry these thoughts through to the end. If these considerations have not steered you off the path toward Customer Centricity, you have already taken the first and most important step toward success, because the right attitude is the be-all and end-all.
The goal in sight
Let’s consider the goal again: create personalized and value-added customer experiences at all touchpoints with the brand. Or put another way: better communication, higher customer loyalty, increasing customer value, less effort, more profit. Fear not. If you’re smart about it and aim for a customized solution, your resource investment should stay the same or even decrease. More performance for less money. Still, the undertaking is not without its challenges. Switching to customer-centric structures is like open-heart surgery with many surgeons, while the patient marches on without anesthesia. So beforehand, consider whether you necessarily have to end up on the operating table, because first-party data is not vital for every company’s survival. For example, if you focus on fast-moving products, you should ask yourself whether a lengthy process of building a highly customer-centric structure makes sense for you.
Customer perspective is the trump card
Basically, however, the following applies: Customers shape your products and services more strongly than before. The customer’s perspective should be your guideline: “Hey customer, what do you need? Can we provide that and if so, how?” If you don’t agree with this approach and would rather work on the principle of “I came up with something, who needs this please?” I’m sorry to inform you that the trend is not in your favor. In the near future, customers will demand an attitude focused on them and their needs in all areas – including B2B. Without a customer centricity philosophy, things will get really tough by then at the latest.
If you have been following the article closely, you know that such customer centricity requires investments – even if these can be designed in such a way that is economically viable. But implementing CRM, a chatbot or other tools that certainly make sense is not the end of the story. You’re ultimately converting parts to your entire way of work, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Individual projects make sense, where you have a clear goal to work towards. But without a positive mission statement, it will be difficult to motivate yourself and to inspire your partners and employees. You can find outstanding examples of customer centricity in action at Mercedes around their EQ series, and besides that, the customer program of Adidas and the overarching frequent flyer program of Star Alliance are convincing.
If the customer is to be king, you have to listen to him. This inevitably means a stronger focus on user research, classic market research and innovative instruments for gathering customer opinions. After all, customer centricity doesn’t work without customer data and customer opinions. By the way, you don’t need to worry about data. Especially in times of GDPR and data protection, you are provided with the data and are allowed to use it; in return, your customer receives an excellent, individually tailored and transparent service. A classic win-win story for all parties involved.
The game with sensitive data
To better understand customers, I recommend the following scenario: grab a piece of paper and write on one side what data you receive from your customer today and what data you would like to receive. On another page, write down what services you provide and, if applicable, could provide. Now rate the data according to the “pain” that sharing it causes the customer. Think as a customer, not as a business owner. Ask yourself how hard it is for you to provide this data. Create a scoring scale and rate the customer’s pain (1 = hardly hurts, 5 = hurts a lot). Then rank your services using the same method and contrast the two sides. You will probably now find that there is an asymmetry that constitutes a disadvantage for the customer. Especially when it comes to data that you would like to have. So you have to do something, because up to this point we have not even considered competitive factors and the importance of further data for economic success!
No clear route, but a compass
Convince all comrades-in-arms. Customer centricity means change. For parts of the company anyway, maybe even for the whole. So you need to get everyone on board. In most cases, studying the future of your market is enough. If everyone sees the general trend, everyone will understand that the topic is a priority. To do this, you need an idea of where you want the journey to go. Ideally, these are products, services and other added values that your customers want and that you want to offer them. In addition, you should roughly outline the needs in the following areas: technologies & IT, customer data, human resources, marketing approach, learning & development. Leave yourself enough “leg room.” For example, if no specific date is required, a horizon of X-Y years is quite sufficient. So don’t interpret the target image as a clearly defined route with milestones at specific intervals, but rather as a compass that provides a basic orientation. During the exchange with your customers, new impulses for the optimization of your strategy will constantly arise anyway.
Structure your project. Operations must continue without restriction in parallel to the changeover to customer centricity. Ideally, you should set up a project team that focuses exclusively on the topic – detached from day-to-day business. Such a team can be formed with current staff, but you should also plan for fresh ideas from newcomers and/or external consultants. But it’s not just about new ideas; it’s also about tangible expertise in project approaches such as Scrum, Kanban or rapid prototyping. These are methods from software development, with the help of which the gradual build-up of customer centricity and dynamic team collaboration can be organized. To ensure that you gradually move forward, dynamic project management is needed, and Scrum, Kanban and rapid prototyping are proven methods. It’s important to keep everyone on track in the cycle of brainstorming, solution development, test runs and evaluation rounds.
Success through contact
But now let’s get to the customer! The time of PowerPoint battles is over. Thanks to the target image, you already have a few things in mind that you could implement with the customer in mind. In order to lend the customer centricity project credibility both internally and externally, you should pick out the measures for the start that put the added value for the customer in the foreground. The point is to focus on the customer first and then generate profit – for both sides. If you are still unsure, feel free to ask your customers what you should definitely start with. Then build a prototype and test it on the market. Refine it step by step to develop it towards the target image. For KPI-driven companies, this approach sounds vague – possibly even scary. Please don’t panic: Thanks to the project structure, you hold all the strings in your hands and can increase the focus on return on investment at any point in time.